End Internet Piracy, Not Liberty

The 21st century so far is the age of the Internet, and with the dominance of the Internet come certain basic expectations. Generally speaking, we expect free and easily accessible content, and the ability to easily contribute to that content or distribute it to our friends and family.

There are many sites that excel at this, and we use them all every day: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, the list goes on. This is how many of us get our news, how we connect and keep up with the increasingly busy lives of our peers, and most importantly, how we explore the world from the comfort of our homes or while we go about our daily business. This is why the Internet works and why it is so important to our society. It is also why there has been such a vehement rejection of the recent anti-piracy bills debated in Congress.

I am not the first one to talk about these bills and I am certainly not the last to denounce them, but we cannot afford to treat this as a temporary issue, or allow people to forget for the simple reason that the United States Senate’s SOPA bill and its evil twin in the House, PIPA, will destroy the Internet as we know it.

Though their aim is to fight piracy and protect intellectual property, these bills would eliminate the freedom that we take for granted. You already know what happens when the Internet is manipulated by people who wish to bring it under control: look no further than the firewalls in high schools or the homes of protective parents, or, more significantly, China or North Korea’s censorship in order to avoid any part of the Internet that contradicts their propaganda. Like these examples, the anti-piracy bills considered by Congress would allow corporations and the members of the media conglomerate to shackle something that has always been formless and free — something that could not be easily controlled or managed by the wealthy and powerful. The Internet is the big equalizer, the final frontier, the biggest global change of the last century — possibly millennium.

By now it is simply impossible to separate user-generated content from pretty much any website that is frequently used. There is a reason these sites are famous and get billions of visits on a daily basis: They allow the greatest input from the online community and exist because of those contributions. And preventing the millions or billions of users who post a video on YouTube or share content of any sort on Facebook or Twitter from carefully navigating copyright law on a daily basis is ridiculous. For the sake of a few pirates or cheaters, these innovative pillars of progress could be shut down, and all so the entertainment industry can guarantee it makes a few more hundred millions of dollars. Last time I checked, the combined revenue and value of the previously mentioned sites enters the billions of dollars.

But the worth of these sites understates the real value they have in the world of business. The very same titans of industry that would tear down the Internet as it exists today can reach new audiences and market their products far more effectively because of the Internet and sites like these. The next company like Facebook will be successful because it finds a way to innovate and build on the strengths of its predecessors. Technology will evolve and so will the way businesses react to the competition of new media and social networking. Destroying these companies before they can even get off the ground may guarantee that the existing companies don’t have to worry about dangerous new competition, but it will stifle creativity and hold us back at a time when we’re just starting to see what the Internet can really do.

More importantly, you cannot put a price on how much these sites have changed and shaped our culture. Politicians and other public figures are exposed, corruption is laid out before the eyes of the world, revolutions take root and topple tyranny. Human beings are closer than they have ever been. Even though many online relationships are shallow or lack the effect of true interpersonal contact, technology breaks down the barriers of distance and time and allows us to interact in ways our parents and grandparents could never have imagined. These sites have facilitated that change; they have made the Internet even more significant than it was even 10 years ago.

The greatest thing about the Internet is its ability to transcend borders — national or artificial — and allow anyone who uses it to communicate and cooperate in a massive online community. This community has already made itself known and pushed back against this overbroad and over-reaching attempt to make the Internet a sterile, easily controlled pawn for money and power. It is incredibly easy to have a voice on the Internet, to express our feelings and share our lives with other people, and it is hard to think of a better illustration of the extent to which free speech can breathe and impact the world. The Internet is, in its very essence, speech. It can be chaotic, contradictory, loud, sometimes hurtful; but it is also capable of so much good, bringing a variety of perspectives, beliefs and attitudes — all human, all accessible with a single click.

Kerry Wakely is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.